Malick’s Progress

From the January 15, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

The Thin Red Line

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Terrence Malick

With Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, Arie Verveen, Dash Mihok, John Savage, John Travolta, and George Clooney.

the-thin-red-line-jack-fisk

Last week the National Society of Film Critics voted Out of Sight the year’s best picture, also awarding it best screenplay and best direction. If this baffles or bemuses you, you should know that the awards in each category are chosen by multiple ballots listing three titles in order of preference. What now seems like a collective preference for a sexy thriller over more ambitious pictures was in effect a tie-breaker between two irreconcilable positions.

As a participant in the meeting I saw partisans of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan square off against partisans of The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick’s first film since Days of Heaven (1978). Practically no one voted for both — only Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune comes to mind — so Steven Soderbergh lurched forward as a second choice, finally copping 28 votes while Spielberg and Malick tied for second place with 25 votes apiece.… Read more »

Critical Consensus: Kent Jones and Jonathan Rosenbaum Discuss Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard

Posted on Indiewire on January 6, 2012, with different illustrations. — J.R.

 

Critical Consensus: Kent Jones and Jonathan Rosenbaum Discuss Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard

By Kent Jones, Eric Kohn and Jonathan Rosenbaum | Indiewire January 6, 2012 at 11:20AM

pickpocket

 bfi-Bresson

Editor’s note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. Here, Jonathan Rosenbaum (formerly of the Chicago Reader) and Kent Jones (executive director of the World Cinema Foundation and editor-at-large at Film Comment) discuss two legendary filmmakers: Robert Bresson, the subject of a retrospective beginning at New York’s Film Forum today, and Jean-Luc Godard, whose “Film Socialisme” comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on January 10. More details on films opening this week follow after the discussion.

ERIC KOHN: There’s no easy way to have a short conversation about Robert Bresson without shortchanging a career spanning 13 films and widely considered paramount to 20th-century film history. Bresson’s Catholicism, his narrative precision, use of non-actors and painterly formalism have been analyzed many times over.

However, the Bresson retrospective that begins at Film Forum today ahead of a national tour, and includes 35mm prints of 11 films, is the first one in 14 years.Read more »

Five Letters from Godard Apropos of Inside/Out

The following was put together for Jean-Luc Godard: Documents, a huge, large-format, 448-page (+ DVD) compendium put together by Nicole Brenez (in collaboration with Michael Witt) and published by the Centre Pompidou in 2006. I’ve decided to reproduce this assembly of texts exactly as I submitted it to Nicole. — J.R. [8/23/08]

Preface to Five Letters from Godard Apropos of Inside/Out

Not much (i.e., not enough) is known today about the three features of American independent filmmaker Rob Tregenza, all 35 millimeter—-Talking to Strangers (1988), The Arc (1991), and Inside/Out (1997)—- and possibly still less is known about Godard’s activity as a film producer, specifically of the third of these films. It isn’t even alluded to in Colin MacCabe’s detailed biography, where the fact that Godard helped to finance Straub-Huillet’s 1967 Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach equally goes unmentioned.

It also seems probable that the last film review published by Godard to date is his one of Talking to Strangers (see Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, tome 2, 1984-1998, pages 355-356, where this text is undated, though it was written specifically for the Toronto Film Festival catalogue and published there in English in September 1996). Financed by Tregenza himself with the money he earned from shooting TV commercials in Baltimore, Maryland, the film, shot on a one-to-one shooting ratio, consists of nine ten-minute takes.… Read more »

Master of Reality (updated, 1/13/2010)

Eric Rohmer died in early 2010 at the age of 89. (See Dave Kehr’s very fine obituary in the New York Times.) Although my support for his work was often guarded, I hope that I did justice to his importance in this August 20, 1999 piece for the Chicago Reader.

I was distressed more recently to read A.O. Scott assert about Rohmer, in an article about him in the New York Times, that “some aspects of late-20th-century life -– most notably, politics –- were absent from his palette”. This immediately made me think about L’arbre, le maire et la médiathèque (1993), one of Rohmer’s best and most neglected features, although, as Kent Jones subsequently noted on Dave Kehr’s blog, other Rohmer films with (direct or indirect) political content could also be noted. As usual, it appears that Scott is doing what many readers want  from the Times‘ film writers: to assure them that their ignorance about certain matters is an “educated” ignorance, even if it isn’t. –J.R. [1/13/10]

Autumn Tale Rating *** A must-see

Directed and written by Eric Rohmer

With Marie Rivière, Béatrice Romand, Alain Libolt, Didier Sandre, Alexia Portal, Stéphane Darmon, and Aurélia Alcaïs.… Read more »

The Rattle of Armor, the Softness of Flesh: Bresson’s LANCELOT DU LAC

From the Summer 1974 issue of Sight and Sound. — J.R.

The Rattle of Armor, the Softness of Flesh: Bresson’s LANCELOT DU LAC

LANCELOT DU LAC embodies the perfection of a language that has been in the process of development and refinement for over thirty years. If it stuns and overwhelms one’s sense of the possibilities of that language— in a way, perhaps, that no predecessor has done, at least since AU HASARD BALTHAZAR — this is not because it represents a significant departure or deviation from the path Robert Bresson has consistently followed. The source of amazement lies in the film’s clarity and simplicity, a precise and irreducible arrangement of sounds and images that is so wholly functional that nothing is permitted to detract from the overall narrative complex, and everything present is used. It is a film where the rattle of armor and the neighing of horses are as essential as the faces and bodies of the characters, where indeed each of these elements serves to isolate and define the importance and impact of the others.

The sheer rawness of what is there disconcerts, but it shouldn’t lead one to focus unduly on what isn’t there, or track down some elusive clue to the Bressonian mystery.… Read more »

HELSINKI, FOREVER and Cinema, Now

The following was written for CITIZEN PETER, a very handsomely produced and multilingual 476-page book celebrating the late Peter von Bagh’s 70th birthday, in late August 2013, coedited by Antti Alanen and Olaf Möller. — J.R.

 

Preface

Peter von Bagh is the man who convinced me to purchase my first multiregional VCR in the early 1980s. So he has a lot to answer for — including, just for starters, my DVD column in Cinema Scope.

We’ve met at various times in Paris, London, New York, Southern California, Chicago, Helsinki, Sodankylä, and Bologna — and probably in other places as well, although these are the ones I currently remember. The first times were in Paris in the early 1970s, when he looked me up, and it must have been either in San Diego in 1977 or 1978 or in Santa Barbara between 1983 and 1987 that he convinced me to buy a multiregional VCR. Most likely it was the latter, where I was mainly bored out of my wits apart from my pastime of taping movies from cable TV, and Peter maintained that if we started swapping films through the mail, a multiregional VCR would allow me to play some of the treasures he could send me.Read more »

Interrogating the 60s [on THE SECOND HEIMAT]

From the Chicago Reader (May 6, 1994). I haven’t reseen The Second Heimat since then, and it would be interesting to discover how it holds up today. — J.R.

**** THE SECOND HEIMAT

(Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Edgar Reitz

With Henry Arnold, Salome Kammer, Daniel Smith, Noemi Steuer, Armin Fuchs, Martin Maria Blau, Laszlo I. Kish, Frank Roth, Anke Sevenich, Franziska Traub, Michael Schonborn, Hannelore Hoger, Susanne Lothar, Alexander May, and Peter Weiss.

Why is it so hard to be happy? — Clarissa in the seventh episode of The Second Heimat

The 60s and early 70s reveled in long, ambitious works — movies and music alike — epic, multilayered statements that through their unwieldy lengths alone challenged and disrupted the flow of everyday life. In jazz there were Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, in rock Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, We’re Only in It for the Money, and Tommy, and when rock and movies came together in Woodstock (1970) the running time was three hours — about as long as a marijuana high.

An interesting paradox: to go to a long concert or long movie during that period was to be “somewhere else,” but that didn’t necessarily mean to escape.… Read more »

Social Criticism

From the Chicago Reader (May 6, 1988). — J.R.

COLORS

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Dennis Hopper

Written by Michael Schiffer and Richard Dilello

With Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Randy Brooks, Grand Bush, Don Cheadle, Glenn Plummer, and Rudy Ramos.

REPENTANCE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Tengiz Abuladze

Written by Nana Djanelidze, Tengiz Abuladze, and Rezo Kveselava

With Avtandil Makharadze, Zeinab Botsvadze, Ketevan Abuladze, Edisher Giorgobiani, Kakhi Kavsadze, Iya Ninidze, and Merab Ninidze.

For several weeks now, I’ve been trying to get a fix on what irritates me so much about Colors. Seeing it again recently, and then seeing Repentance for the first time the next day, a few hours before I started this review, gave me the beginning of an answer, and it isn’t a pretty one. If these films can be said to represent what “social criticism” currently means in the respective cultures of the U.S. and the Soviet Union — and, after a certain amount of boiling and scraping, I think that they can — then it seems to me we’re in trouble.

It’s been estimated that over 60 million Russians have already seen Repentance, the most prominent of all the belated, post-glasnost Soviet releases — scripted in 1981-82, filmed in 1984, and apparently shelved for only two years prior to the thaw.… Read more »

The Bloody Glamour of Bloody War [PLATOON] (previously unpublished)

Part of my 1987 application for the job of film reviewer at the Chicago Reader consisted of writing three long sample reviews for them in March and/or April — only one of which was published by them (Radio Days), although, as I recall, they paid me for all three. (Writing my pieces in Santa Barbara, I was limited in my choices of what I could write about.) I only recently came across the two unpublished reviews, of Platoon and Round Midnight, in manuscript, although I recall that I did appropriate certain portions of them in subsequent reviews. Otherwise, the first publications of these pieces are on this site. — J.R.

**PLATOON

Directed and written by Oliver Stone

With Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem DaFoe and Keith David.

“I mean, you know that, it just can’t be done! We both shrugged and laughed, and Page looked very thoughtful for a moment. “The very idea!” he said. “Ohhh, what a laugh! Take the bloody glamour out of bloody war!”

Michael Herr, Dispatches

The myth of lost innocence that permeates American movies like some omnipresent air freshener ultimately has a lot to answer for.… Read more »

The Violent Years

From The Movie No. 71, 1981. — J.R.

From Psycho and Spartacus (both 1960) to The Wild Bunch and Easy Rider (both 1969), the Sixties might be regarded as the period when screen violence gained a new aesthetic self-consciousness and something approaching academic respectability, at least in the public mind. To put it somewhat differently, the contemporary spectator of 1960, shocked by the brutal shower murder of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho as an event — without observing that it was a composite film effect created by several dozen rapidly cut shots –- would have been much likelier to notice, in 1969, the use of slow motion in the depiction of several dozen violent deaths in The Wild Bunch.

The key film document of the decade, endlessly scrutinized and discussed, was not an entertainment feature at all, but the record of an amateur film-maker named Abe Zapruder of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963; the close analysis to which this short length of film was subjected was characteristic of a changing attitude towards the medium as a whole.

In the Sixties many established cultural, social, and political values were radically thrown into question, at the same time that the media -– including television and pop music as well as cinema — were becoming closely examined in their own right.… Read more »

Death of a Cyclist

DeathofaCyclist

Ironically, Juan Antonio Bardem (1922-2002) might be better known today as the uncle of actor Javier Bardem than as the master of sound and image that he is. Antifascist filmmakers who stuck around during Franco’s reign are often forgotten outside Spain — unlike Luis Buñuel, who came back just long enough to make a few films and then left again. A communist, Bardem stayed, struggled, and was jailed more than once; he was in prison when he won an award at Cannes for this creepy, claustrophobic 1955 melodrama. An adulterous couple (Alberto Closas and Lucia Bose) in a country-club milieu accidentally run over a cyclist and flee out of fear that their relationship will be revealed; their guilty paranoia opens many sores while awakening the man’s social conscience. As in Bardem’s still greater Calle Mayor (1956), Death of a Cyclist follows the antifascist strategy Henri-Georges Clouzot used in Le Corbeau for Vichy-era France, transposing the ugliness of power relations in a repressive society to the spheres of sex and gossip. In Spanish with subtitles. 99 min. a Wed 1/24, 5:30 PM, and Thu 1/25, 9:40 PM, Music Box.

death_of_a_cyclist_tweed_pig_3Read more »

Our Sylvias — and Guerín’s

Written in April 2011 for the Cinema Guild DVD of In the City of Sylvia and Some Photos in the City of Sylvia. Alas, all of the illustrations used here come from the former of these, the second to have been made. — J.R.

in_the_city_of_sylvia

José Luis Guerín’s Some Photos in the City of Sylvia has been described, by myself and others, as a silent, black and white “study” (or filmed “treatment,”or “scenario”) in 2007 that formed the basis for In the City of Sylvia, a color and sound “remake”of the following year. Whether or not this might be technically accurate in terms of causality and financing, it now strikes me as an inadequate way of summarizing the fascinating relation between these two works. I even think it’s an error to view these two films as two versions of the same story — a mistake I made myself when I reviewed them together back in 2008 — because assuming this overlooks too many other things.

inthecityofsylvia-drawing

Just as there are viewers who prefer Chantal Akerman’s Golden Eighties (1983), her feature-length “preview” to her 1986 musical Window Shopping, and others who prefer Jean-Luc Godard’s 54-minute Scenario du Film “Passion” (1982) to his 88-minute Passion (made the same year), it’s entirely possible to prefer Guerín’s 67-minute “sketch” to his 84-minute feature.… Read more »

Food, Sex, and Death [TAMPOPO]

One of my first long reviews for the Chicago Reader (September 11, 1987). Reseeing the movie almost three decades later, shortly before being flown to New York to be interviewed about it for a Japanese documentary, I liked it even more, and would give it four stars if I was reviewing it today. — J.R.

TAMPOPO

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Juzo Itami

With Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Nobuo Nakamura, and Mariko Okada.

True, we eat to preserve ourselves from dying. But cooking, the moment of preparing foods . . . is a pause in the most relentless of natural processes, a moment when the process is retarded, when the food exists as itself, no longer a dead thing, not yet assimilated to a living thing. It exists in a moment out of time, and can therefore become a source of esthetic pleasure — small, fleeting, often deceptive, yet a true esthetic object. So brief is its moment of objectivity, this bit of food, that it quivers with the life it came from and with the life it goes toward — and yet, always, it partakes of a stillness that transforms time. The raw stuff has become food — worked upon, transformed by love and care, made proper with a name — and it is a part, if of a stew, of all other stews ever made and ever yet to be made.Read more »

Sound and Flurry (on ART OF MUSIC VIDEO)

The following article appeared in the February 23, 1990 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.

ART OF MUSIC VIDEO

For people like myself who have conflicted feelings about music videos as an art form, the four-part series Art of Music Video—playing for the second time at the Film Center this weekend—offers lots of material to consider. Even so, this presentation of a hundred videos assembled by Michael Nash of the Long Beach Museum of Art involves a number of curatorial decisions that I have problems with. Before considering the videos themselves, let me list these problems; some of them are overlapping rather than consecutive, but putting them in list form will help to give some idea of how many boats this particular series is missing:

(1) Historical. Although Nash’s selection is media-specific—that is, generally limited to videos—one of his four programs, “Vanguard Re-visions,” has a subcategory called “Experimental Film: Invention and Intervention,” consisting of films made by Bruce Conner, James Herbert, and Jem Cohen between 1961 and 1989.

While I have no quarrel with the inclusion of these figures, it’s clear that this attempt to give a foreshortened art-history perspective rules out a lot more of the history of music videos and their precursors than it includes.… Read more »

And Now the News [THE 4TH ANIMATION CELEBRATION]

From the Chicago Reader (May 22, 1992). — J.R.

THE 4TH ANIMATION CELEBRATION: THE MOVIE

*** (A must-see)

Finding out what’s happening in the world these days is no easy matter. Turn to a newspaper and we may learn what American business wants to know — or thinks it wants to know — but not much else; check out what’s on TV and chances are that the state of the world will get less attention than the current Hollywood releases. Even when there is expanded coverage we often can’t be sure that the journalists understand what they’re reporting or that what they’re saying encompasses all that they understand.

I suppose this has always been true to some extent, and maybe it only seems worse nowadays because we no longer have newsreels. Recently some fascinating “March of Time” shorts have come out on video — newsreel “essays” produced by Time-Life and released in movie theaters by Twentieth Century-Fox in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. What seems most quaint and touching about them is how easily people (both famous and ordinary) were induced by the camera to play fictional versions of themselves that they and everyone else were persuaded to think of as real.… Read more »